ADELĖ DIRSYTĖ, martyr (1909-1955)
Adelė Dirsytė was born on 15 April 1909, in the village of Promislavas, Kėdainių rajonas (Lithuania), the youngest child of Antanas Dirsė and Agota Kagaišytė, both farmers. Her parents instilled the value of industriousness on their three daughters and three sons. Of the six siblings, only Adelė and her brother Jonas proceeded to higher studies. In 1928, Adelė became a philosophy major at the Vytautas Magnus University. She also became engaged in the activities of the Catholic Federation Ateitis (i.e., “the Future”) and gave lectures in meetings of Catholic organizations. She left the university in 1932 without, however, obtaining a diploma. The university’s faculty council would bestow it belatedly on her in 1940.
Once out of the university, Adelė became more actively involved in a variety of Catholic organizations. She was the board secretary of the Lithuanian Catholic Women’s Association Center and director of Caritas, an organization that took care of relief for the poor and orphans. She also wrote articles and poems that were published in Moteris (i.e., “Woman”).
When the Soviet occupation of Lithuania began in 1940, Adelė moved to Vilnius and worked as a teacher in a secondary school for young women. During the years of German occupation, she worked as a German teacher in the Trade School and in an adult education school. One of her students at the Trade School recollected:
The teacher was with us with all her heart. She was the master of our class of twenty young women. The teacher was concerned about our spiritual growth. We went together to the churches of St. Casimir, St. Raphael, and St. Teresa. Our dear teacher participated with us in all our retreats. We were prepared for these retreats by our time of upbringing in her class. We remember how beautiful and inspiring was her reading of St. Teresa’s life story, as well as the work of Marija Pečkauskaitė. She was concerned not only with our morals but our education as well. She wanted us to see as many plays as possible, tried to broaden our outlook on life, explained all kinds of subtleties, in the hope that we would grow as bright patriots of our motherland.
In addition to teaching, Adelė also participated in civic activities. She actively ministered to students and, together with Fr. A. Lipniūnas, organized relief for those who were in need. During the years of German occupation, for example, when all were threatened by death, she lived with S. Ladygienė, who was hiding a Jewish girl in her home. Adelė also helped another friend who was involved in the same activity.
By autumn of 1944, when the Soviet army reoccupied Vilnius, Adelė joined Fr. B. Baliukas, a seminary professor, and other intellectuals in discussions on ways to renew the activities of Ateitis. She was charged with the organization’s office for student affairs. She had also transferred to the Salomėja Nėris Secondary School for Young Women where she taught German. One of her students remembered her this way: “She was modest and very quiet. Although the class size was very large, she remembered names very quickly. Her lessons were a bit boring. She neither praised nor reprehended us. You got marks according to the way you learned. There were no religious lessons in the schedule. They took place in the hall of a nearby church and she took care of this.”
An organized resistance against Soviet occupation, which struggled for Lithuanian independence, was established in the capital toward the end of 1944. Adelė participated in their activity as well and worked for the strengthening of her people’s religious and national traditions. On 06 March 1946, she was arrested for hiding and abetting a person who had escaped from Soviet security arrest. She and a group of resistance fighters were tried by a military tribunal on 11 November. Accused of participating in the “counterrevolutionary activities” of Ateitis, Adelė was sentenced to ten years in a concentration camp and to five years of restriction of her rights. In the summer of 1947, Adelė and several other inmates were removed from their Vilnius prison to the forced labor camp of Chuma (Komi Autonomous Republic, Russia). Life there was extremely difficult, excessive physical work being aggravated by poor nutrition, lack of hygiene, and intense cold weather. All these affected Adelė’s delicate health. During moments of respite, however, she energetically organized conversations and discussions among the women inmates. Together they celebrated religious feast days and recited the rosary, made of bread beads under their plank-beds.
In the summer of 1949, Adelė and several women were transferred to the labor camp of Taishet (Irkutskaya oblast’, Russia). They were forced to work in railway construction by chopping stones, ordering the rampart, and working in the forest. Here likewise she was a spiritual leader to the young inmates. The following winter, they were moved once more to the Ui camp in Kolym. Life there was easier as they only had to work at service jobs, giving Adelė the opportunity to organize religious and literary meetings. The respite did not last long. By the summer of 1950, the Lithuanian inmates were relocated to the Magadan concentration camp. In the middle of all these, Adelė was able to write Prayer Book of Girls Exiled in Siberia. It was a small handwritten book (70 x 40 mm) of forty pages, sewn together and bound with fabric covers decorated with ornaments. The prayers were rewritten and amended with new ones in the passing of time.
Although the hard labor in Magadan enervated Adelė further, she continued her surreptitious ministry among young Lithuanian women. One day, a priest was detained in the nearby camp for men. Adelė, with the assistance of Juozas Brazauskas, a like-minded person from the men’s camp, arranged for the Eucharist to be brought to the women’s camp and distributed to Lithuanians. This activity was noticed soon enough by informants of the Soviet guards. From then on, Adelė was regularly stopped while going to and returning from work and beaten in a cold underground cell. She hardly complained about these, but her companions noted her increasing number of bruises and contusions during their bath. It dawned on them that she had already been marked for slow extermination. Adelė calmed them, saying that their guards were poor people they had to pray for. She asked them to continue writing down their personal prayers. Adelė herself wrote hers down wherever she could – sometimes on a birch bark – and rewrote them upon arriving at their camp. One of her inmates recalled: “I used to see that she suffered a lot. But she always offered her sufferings to Mary, Mother of God, for Lithuania. Tortured in this way, she became very weak, her head and breast often ached. After one interrogation, she was spitting up blood for a long time, her face swelled. Only later did she admit that all her teeth had been knocked out.”
In late autumn of 1953, on her return from work, Adelė was taken to the punishment cell for a week and then taken away to a mysterious location for the duration of winter. Adelė was brought back to her camp the following April, already mentally broken. Having found out about this, the young women collected food they had and in the evening came to Adelė. Her hair had been cut short and she was disheveled and heavily bruised. She recognized the girls and ate the bread and fish the had brought. However, when they asked her about where she had been, she began to toss wildly and call for her parents. She spoke of her torture only once: “She talked to me for a long time and I saw tears rolling down her cheeks for the first time. She said that there were very cruel interrogators in that place, especially one who tore out half of her hair. She showed me the scabs on her head.”
Toward the end of 1954, Adelė was moved to the section for the mentally ill in the camp hospital. She was very withdrawn and refused to eat. Her young inmates visited her but Adelė refused to take the food they brought for her. “No. I do not work, so I cannot eat. You who work must eat.” She wasted away rapidly. Adelė was not among the Lithuanian prisoners removed from Magadan in November 1955. A death certificate from the hospital claimed that she had died already on 26 September 1955 in Khabarovsk (Khabarovskiy kray, Russia).
With the memory of the teacher’s martyrdom persisting even after the democratization of Lithuania, the archdiocese of Kaunas began to work for Adelė Dirsytė’s beatification. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints issued the decree nihil obstat for her cause on 14 January 2000.